Losing a Child
I am a mother, first and foremost. Most of my day-to day decisions are governed from this place of mothership which, as mothers know, can feel weighty and unrelentingly selfless but glorious nonetheless. My child’s safety and well-being, his laughter and his joy, his love and fears, his mind and his passions are mine to lose. The gravity of this responsibility is crushing some days; yet, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Each day with him is a privilege.
As grateful as I am for my son, I know there are other mothers out there who aren’t so lucky. Mothers who have felt their child’s radiant life-force cocooned in their bellies, felt total surrender, only to be betrayed by the forces of their own body. Mothers who have wept silently, alone in a bathroom, never to speak of their misfortune again. Mothers whose nurseries cradle no one.
Losing a child is among life’s worst tragedies. It is a plight no parent ought to forage, territory better left unclaimed. But it happens. Limited data on miscarriages in Canada (pregnancy that ends on its own before 20 weeks’ gestation), suggest as many as 10-20 percent of confirmed pregnancies end in miscarriage. This means there’s a good chance someone you know has suffered a miscarriage.
Additionally, stillbirth rates (a baby who dies in utero and is delivered after 20 weeks’ gestation) in Canada measure 7.1 per 1000 births. In 2012, the most recent year data was collected, this meant 2,774 out of 380,660 babies were stillborn.
Further still, Canada’s infant mortality rate (number of deaths of children less than one year of age) is 5.1 per 1000 live births. This means 1,903 children under the age of one died in 2012.
These numbers are horrifying. Families’ hopes turn to heartbreak, and they are never quite whole again.
There can be so much fear and uncertainty during pregnancy, at delivery and in general child-rearing, it’s a wonder we keep doing it. But women have done so since time immemorial and will continue to do so in perpetuity because the benefits far outweigh the risks. So the solution to loss is not to stop having babies; rather, the solution lies in learning to cope with the loss and adjusting to life without a child.
First, give yourself permission to grieve, however that grief shows up. Whether it’s anger, sadness and depression, guilt and shame, isolation- let it be just that. Eventually, these feelings won’t be so intense anymore precisely because you’ve paid attention to them.
Next, lean on someone you love and trust and start talking. Too many women hide in silence, when what they should be doing is opening up and sharing their intense thoughts and feelings with a safe person. Talking is a catharsis and helps move the grieving process along. If there isn’t anyone in your life that qualifies as safe and loving, consider finding a therapist who can support you through your grief.
Then, start finding a new normal. Life won’t ever be the same again, but it’s important to acknowledge that life can move forward in a new way once you’ve accepted the loss. Explore ways to honour your child, remember them and keep them close to you even though they are not in the material world as you know it. This kind of adjustment is intentional and will take time, so be patient with yourself and only let go of what you can bear when you feel ready.
There is no time limit with grief. You are allowed to feel exactly what you do for as long as you need to. Our feelings aren’t static, and don’t last forever. Sometimes just knowing that can provide relief to the overburdened soul.
Of all the wonderful and important things I hope to teach my son, resilience takes the top spot. Being resilient encompasses self-awareness, strong emotional regulation skills, and great tenacity, three qualities that, when combined, mean it’s possible to overcome even the most wicked sufferings.
Women become mothers not because they’ve had a child, but because they feel compelled to nurture and love an extension of themselves. So once we feel we’ve become a mother, we are always a mother, which means the opportunity to teach resilience isn’t lost, it’s simply relocated back to the self. And once we’ve become resilient, we can open ourselves up to taking another chance to love selflessly again.